FOXBOROUGH — Revolution coach Jay Heaps’s fiery reputation goes back to his playing days.
It was on display when he stopped practice this week and chewed out midfielder Michael Roach toward the end of a long session.
There was a reason for it, it wasn’t just frustration over his players’ lack of communication or even the team’s seven-game winless streak.
“You’ve got to realize, this is our livelihood,” Heaps said. “That’s why I wake up every day at 5:30, why I go home every night. I want to live this. I want the guys to live this. I want losses to hurt. I want practices to sting. I want wins to feel good. I want all those things for the guys. That’s why there’s emotion in this game, because the more emotional you are at the right time it can really help you.”
When Heaps was hired, he had a vision for reshaping the franchise and washing away last season and its 16 losses. He wanted to change the culture and put out a better product.
This season has seen its share of shakeups. Heaps and general manager Michael Burns have taken chances trying to find strikers, including going after Jose Moreno (an experiment that ended when they waived the Colombian earlier this month). Heaps sat goalkeeper Matt Reis, he of more than 100 career wins, for two matches in the middle of the season to go with the younger Bobby Shuttleworth. Difficult as it was, captain Shalrie Joseph was traded. The team added forward Jerry Bengtson at the international transfer window, and he scored in his first game. But shortly after he arrived, he left to compete in the Olympics. All season, Heaps has tweaked and tinkered with lineups.
But despite all the changes, the players believe in his vision.
“You’ve got to trust the change,” said defender AJ Soares. “All the players believe in Jay and the coaching staff and the front office. It’s definitely a learning curve, and there’s been changes made and guys are getting used to it. It’s the vision, the way this club should be going, and I think everyone’s on board with that.”
The one point when the Revolution seemed to be settling into a new identity was during their five-game unbeaten streak from June 2-July 8, including pulling out a pair of ties in the closing minutes.
“We had a good energy of confidence,” Heaps said. “I think we obviously made some changes adding some players, trading a player away, so there’s always going to be a dynamic change, a chemistry change. We’re trying to make sure that we find the right pieces to the puzzle.”
As difficult as this recent stretch has been (they’ve played five one-goal games and they haven’t scored since July 29), Heaps said that while he’s always looking to improve, radical change is the last thing the team needs with 10 games left, including Saturday night at Columbus.
“I think that you have to stand by what you’re looking for,” Heaps said. “We’re not out there just trying to add players for no reason and trade players for no reason. I think the one thing that I’ve always said and will continue to say is each move is methodical, each move is made with the thought process behind it. Right or wrong, there’s thought, there’s a real commitment and real ideas behind why we’re doing it. It’s not just one day we need a change. It’s more along the lines of where are we at today, where are we going, where have we been, what do we need in the locker room, what do we need on the field? There’s a lot that goes into it.”
The feeling is that this year’s team is markedly improved, even if it hasn’t gotten the desired results.
“The message has been the team,” Soares said. “The bones of the team, the things that we want to do, that’s all the same. It’s hard work. It’s organization, it’s preparing, it’s being fit. Those kinds of things, they don’t change. It doesn’t matter what players are in and out, Jay’s philosophy sticks and that gives us stability.
“The results haven’t been exactly what we’ve wanted so far, but just in terms of our play, being in the games, our mentality, we’re just a much better team. When we play teams, they’re always saying how improved we are and the good style we play. We’re still fine-tuning it, we’re looking to get better results. I think this team has a bright future and we’re looking to stay positive.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.